The travel journey still has clear ‘inconsistencies’ and for corporate travellers that is a significant hurdle to overcome

The travel experience has changed dramatically and that transformation remains a major impediment to the vital return of the hospitality and air transport industries. While there has been a pent up demand for leisure travel, business travel is floundering leaving many to question just when it will bounce back.

At the offset of the global pandemic we had all remained pretty confident that the second half of 2020 could be that time, with initial small steps, but as the year progresses that feeling is subsiding for many. Many events that were initially pushed from 1H to 2H are now subsequently being cancelled or moved exclusively online as many in this space write off 2020 from a physical meeting standing at least.

The International Air Transport Association’s chief economist Brian Pearce said this week that it still “remains to be seen” whether pre-Covid-19 business travel patterns will return, and he acknowledged that the association is worried that it will not actually given that for “many network airlines, the premium-paying passengers were essentially the ones who drove the profitability”.

Speaking during the last Corporate Travel Community (CTC) Masterclass entitled ‘Understanding the new business travel journey‘, American Express Digital Labs VP strategy and innovation Johnny Thorsen said that “inconsistencies throughout the journey” regarding health and safety protocols and requirements for travellers are not ideal for helping the industry’s rebound.

The travel technology evangelist has first-hand experience of the traveller journey having flown from California back to his Danish homeland to celebrate a family birthday milestone as the pandemic was subsiding in Europe. He found that navigating long haul travel in the age of Covid-19 raises a host of potential roadblocks.

He said airports particularly need to improve their communication to ensure travellers have up to date, real time information. Mr Thorsen called for “a reliable communication process” and common terms and protocols across airports, airlines and hotels and suggested the development of new corporate travel systems to enable the sharing of personal traveller feedback.

According to Mr Thorsen said such systems would enable the sharing of knowledge, personal experiences and “real time reliable information” about the current situation in locations such as airports and hotels and would reassure any concerns.

Alongside Mr Thorsen on the CTC Masterclass was Karen Hutchings, global head of travel, meetings and events at Ernst & Young Global, who echoed those sentiments. She explained there should be a single standard for health and safety protocols across airports, airlines, hotels and other travel suppliers.

Ms Hutchings said travel suppliers have very similar but not identical protocols, with inconsistencies between providers. Ms Hutchings said adopting the same requirements, regardless of the stage of the journey, would give confidence to travellers, but acknowledged there are some people who are keen to resume travel for business. “I think we do have some pent up demand,” she said.

Also part of the CTC Masterclass discussions was Egencia senior director account management Teresa Matheson, who explained business travel policies must be redesigned and need to be flexible. “Covid-19 has changed the way we travel,” she said and that “company liability and risk has changed considerably” in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As such she said travel programmes need to have the flexibility to adapt and be redesigned to accommodate the new conditions.

Achieving standardisation along the whole journey is remarkably difficult. From the array of different national authorities imposing varying – and often conflicting – rules, to the myriad actors along the chain with their individual interpretations of the rules, achieving a seamless traveller-comforting process is complex. There is clear room for improvement if travellers are to be confident enough to return in numbers.

LEARN MORE… You can watch the full CTC Masterclass session hosted by CTC’s global director Catherine Craig and moderated by CTC’s executive director Benson Tang on-demand by clicking here or on the image below.

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